By Lucinda Hutson
University of Texas Press, $34.95, 288 pages
It’s not often that an exceptional book comes across my review desk, but ¡Viva Tequila! is surely one. You would think it’s all about tequila – its production and the many types of drinks you can create with it — but Lucinda Hutson, through meticulous research, incorporates many aspects of Mexican culture and, to a lesser extent, the adjoining Texan folkways related to this potent spirit.
The first of her books on the same subject was published in 1995, and since then she has “embarked upon other agave expeditions, returning with more stories to tell and recipes to share.” The sweet nectar of the Mexican succulent agave is the source of tequila, and Hutson describes and illustrates the production process from harvesting through distillation in fine details. Even if your interest in the subject is only modest, her writing is so good and readable that you are drawn into the many, many stories she came across through her extensive travels throughout Mexico. The writing is informative and entertaining, and her numerous photo illustrations are wonderful with good subtitles. Hutson describes the different kinds of agaves from which three different kinds of spirits are derived: one, pulque, is only locally consumed as it is a fermented product that doesn’t travel well, while mezcal and tequila are more familiar to most readers. But that’s not all! Before reading this book, only serious tequila drinkers will know that there are five kinds of tequilas with different distillation and aging processes.
“Tequila makes macho men burst into passionate lyrics of unrequited love and shy women dance on tables.”
Hutson weaves Mexican history, culture, art and even music throughout the book with very nice illustrations. Beautiful photos of her own collection of colorful Mexican folk art are on many pages and add a degree of charm to the book. Her description of visits to remote family distilleries read like good travelogues, and are well-illustrated with photos of people, their surroundings and their distilling equipment. Hutson collected a large number of short, witty and meaningful quotes that are scattered throughout the book in both Spanish and English.
The body of the book includes two sections: Tequila Cantina and Tequila Cocina. Cantina, a recipe collection of some ninety drinks, mixes, salts and flavorings, describes what you need to set up your own tequila cantina. The next section, Cocina, has fifty-one recipes in which tequila helps to create or bolster the flavors of foods. The recipes are well-written and easy to follow, but they assume you already have a full cantina set up. The volume concludes with a general index for easy reference.
Reviewed by George Erdosh